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Eclipse, comet, Mars perform big show

When the moon slips into Earth's shadow tonight, it will be only one performer in a unique celestial dance.

The lunar eclipse nearly coincides with the opposition of Mars, a time when the planet is directly opposite Earth from the sun. So as the eclipse progresses, the red planet will shine brightly above the sliver of moon that remains visible.

And if that isn't enough, the moon's darkening will also bring up the lights of Comet Hale-Bopp as it hovers on the northwest horizon.

To see this spectacle, simply step outside and look at the sky. Dark, isolated locales will provide a more impressive view, but the show won't be too shabby in light-polluted city skies either. The complete spectacle also requires a nearly unobstructed view of the northwestern horizon, where some of the action will take place.

Things get started about 10 p.m., when the moon enters the darkest part of Earth's shadow. Comet Hale-Bopp will slide down the northwestern sky as the eclipse goes on, slipping below the horizon at 11 p.m., when the moon is slightly more than half covered.

At 11:39, the eclipse reaches its maximum, obscuring all but a tiny sliver at the top of the moon.

The eclipse ends as the moon comes completely into view again at 1:21 a.m.